Friday, 5 July 2013

Aten Reign: James Turrell's New Space at the Guggenheim New York

A new piece by James Turrell - the L.A.-born master of light and perception - reshapes the rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim. Aten Reign, the site-specific installation and the centre piece of the artist's solo show that opened on the summer solstice, modifies the daylight from the skylight with a series of concentric ellipses that glow in shifting colours...

Aten Reign is not quite a Skyspace, according to the artist, but a Skylight Space. Skyspaces are Turrell's notorious pavilions with smooth walls and an opening in the roof to contemplate the sky.

The Guggenheim's Skylight Space is a vast elliptical cone made with concentric bands of stretched fabric that increase in size towards the bottom and are lined with computer controlled LED lighting. The installation is experienced from below.

Aten Reign creates what Turrell describes as "an architecture of space created with light". In the words of Hilla Rebay, the Guggenheim's first director, "the work promotes a state of meditative contemplation [...], rekindling the museum's founding identity as a temple of spirit".

I haven't been to the installation neither have I managed to see it in pictures (mind that the ones here are renderings) so I could impossibly comment, but these words seem to have put some pressure on the public and reviews have been hard. "You find yourself gazing in frustration at a patch of light, desperately willing it to mean something" by the FT .

I have seen some of James Turrell's work (see my article James Turrell: Challenging Perception) and I love it. However, I can relate to the frustration around his work. In my last year's trip to Arizona I wasn't given permission to visit the Roden Crater site, Turrell's unfinished work of art in a dead volcano near Flagstaff. Granted, it is private property and it will be revealed in due time, but when is due time? The project exists since the late 70s.

As Ariella Budick of the FT puts it "the LED-powered procession of luscious colours has become a cliché of architectural décor [...]. It’s not Turrell’s fault that he pioneered such a successful medium; it’s always hard for an original to compete with knock-offs. But his art depends on fresh wizardry for its effect."

There is a time for everything, a window of opportunity as they call it in business, and sometimes delivering too late can spoil the essence of the work. It happened to the great Leonardo da Vinci when he failed showing to the world the beauty of Mona Lisa. His strive for perfection made him continue work on the painting until his death, which was many years after hers, resulting in him delivering the portrait of himself.

Sometimes a timely work in progress can be more powerful than a long overdue perfect work.

Picture by Jillian Steinhauer

James Turrell in conversation with Charlie Rose

James Turrell / till 25 September 2013 / Guggenheim Museum / New York City
James Turrell installations around the globe

Andreas Tjeldflaat, 2012 © SRGF